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Xtra Debate: Does the live audience have any influence on the results?

Are the viewers sensible to the engagement of the audience?

Each year, thousands of Eurovision fans and casual viewers grab the opportunity to go further, and attend the Eurovision Song Contest in the host city, and in the arena. The audience usually appears on TV, this audience knows the songs and give life to the contest. But can they help the artists?

My opinions

Until a few months ago, I conjectured that an engaged audience, if properly shown and highlighted, could give a boost to a performance. If an act was visibly rocking the place, or having the audience in tears, or at least being in some symbiosis with the crowd, it would make a strong impression on the viewers at home, who can hardly be so engaged, even with a few eurofans in the room.  This is a reasonnable thought, right?

Hence, when came the time for the Eurovision 2018 final, I had strong hopes for France : the song was good, high in the odds, the staging and costumes were, seemingly, classy, and there was this one bonus element that made the performance wonderful : the hands. This hand/arm movement, initiated by Madame Monsieur and followed religiously by the eurofans, when they start to repeat “Merci Mercy”, a move seemingly born during the selection season. I believed it would work wonders, especially with the superb shots over the standing area at the end. This was the best symbiosis between artist and audience. It’s the reason it was even chosen to feature in the songs recap when the voting lines were open. But it did not seem to help.

Thinking about it afterwards, I found that audience engagement on the night never seemed to give anyone any bonus : “Storm” had the crowd singing even before the stage invasion, and it didn’t help; “Occidentali’s Karma” had a nice shot of the audience jumping and singing “Allez!” (in “Namasté, allez!”), and it did not seem to help. “Rise Up” had Copenhagen dancing and jumping with their flags (which, I think, makes the effect stronger), and finished only 20th (19th with the jurors and 14th with the televote).

Obviously, this opinion is a conjecture, the fruit of a feeling more than checkable data, because there are no data. We cannot know how a song would have fared without the audience shots, but the fact that you can find strong audience engagement in both winners (“Rise Like a Phoenix”, with the audience singing the chorus along), mid-scoreboard and near-to-last songs. It seems, to me, that the audience won’t even help a good song. It seems viewers at home just don’t care. But I could be wrong, and I think that, in this case, the truth is far too complex and hard to determine.

Oliver’s opinion

I think it would be impossible to give a firm, statistical response to this question. It would be incredibly difficult to create an objective study on this. Nonetheless, I think any Eurovision fan or follower of reality tv shows like The Voice, X Factor etc. knows that the audience does have an implicit soft influence when it comes to results. There is plenty of subjective accounts which can be used to tackle this.

Audience simulation

In lieu of an LED screen, a fair few acts in Lisbon tried to either emphasise a connection with the audience, or use the audience reaction to heighten the performance. This attempt of reconstructing and simulating a reaction is key to a wider audience at home.

The performance of ‘Toy’ includes two cuts to the audience, both during the chorus respectively. This technique has a simple, though incredibly useful effect. Though subtle, it gives Netta a bit of breathing space for a few moments while she relies on members of the Altice arena to keep up the energy and manic vibe. Had the audience decided they didn’t like ‘Toy’ or Netta’s performance, they could have stood with an air of malaise, looking deadpan into the camera. The same can be said for audience members not taking part into the hand gesture during Madame Monsieur’s performance of ‘Mercy’. The effect to each would have been the same. Non-participation effectively has the opposite effect. Instead of implicitly telling the audience at home they should be enjoying this performance or they should engage with the songs meaning, non-participation suggests it is okay to switch-off.

However, just because an audience appears to be giving a muted response, that doesn’t mean there is no appreciation for the song, singer or performance.

Emotive ballads

It is important to distinguish that the examples I’ve mentioned above are up and mid-tempo. Where does balladry fit into this?

I believe ballads and slower songs only enhance my point made above. Although you can’t bop along to a ballad as you can to ‘Fuego’, when it comes to slower songs audience participation comes via flags, vocal breaks and the final chorus. The Shin and Mariko comes to mind. Georgia took a risk in Copenhagen and it backfired monumentally. I don’t actually mind the song, but the performance included many a wide shot of the stage and audience. In any given moment during those shots, you can see no more than a handful of flags being waved. The applause both before and after the performance was relatively muted. The feed made it obvious that ‘Three Minutes to Earth’ was not going to win, and likely not to qualify. Compare that to Sweden of the same year. As soon as the first chorus you can hear people singing along with Sanna. During the short bridge the crowd bellows in support. A similar phenomenon occurred with Jelena Tomašević in Belgrade. Though ‘Undo’ and ‘Oro’ are very different songs, having an audience sing along to a ballad creates an intensely chilling moment. The universal engagement in a song defies language or cultural barriers and instead taps into our raw primal understanding of empathy. It isn’t something that can be necessarily rehearsed or even guaranteed in a live performance. Nevertheless, when moments like these do happen, boy are they memorable.

For juries, they can validate an incredibly high ranking as they have the public – albeit a sample – in the arena acting as a litmus test. For audiences at home, an emotive moment can help stick out in a slew of 26 songs.

Unlike good staging or vocals, an audience has a very limited impact on the scoreboard, if any at all. However, they do have a great amount of power to carry the vibe of a song from the arena to the millions of tv’s at home. In that sense, audiences can and do carry some weighting in small voting movements.

Nick’s opinion

My answer to this question would be ‘Yes, absolutely, not a shadow of a doubt’. I’d like to take you back to the national final for the United Kingdom last year. We went into the show with a couple of favourites, but let’s be honest: SuRie wasn’t one of them.

The audience however went completely crazy over her performance in the Brighton Dome. She captivated the audience in the arena better than any act. The massive cheers and the joy that spoke from it because the audience enjoyed it so much must have given her an incredible boost. Up to this day, I’m convinced SuRie wouldn’t have won had you only broadcast the show on radio.

Another, more negative, example can be found in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Efi Gjika was Albania’s entrant and her “Barbie” was a catchy tune that was predicted to do quite well. And Efi was determined to claim that stage. She encouraged the audience to clap and dance along… but they didn’t. It looked empty and it didn’t quite improve Efi’s performance.

In general, the audience does have an influence in how they react to certain songs. It can make or break you, but in 90% of the situations, the audience reaction will be the same to that of viewers at home.

What do YOU think? There is no absolute truth to this matter, so what is your opinion? Has the audience no effect whatsoever? Tell us in the comments below, or on social media at @escxtra !

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